Kevan Karanjia, Staff Writer
March 29, 2013 — Airport officials in the past have stopped some crazy things going through customs including corpses, exotic birds, a tiger cub, and even skeletons, but topping them all has got to be last week's capture of 54 live ploughshare tortoises, more than 10 percent of the species' entire population.
The ploughshare tortoise is one of the most critically endangered species in the world, so when two smugglers were arrested at a Thai airport with a bag containing 54 of the creatures, it came as a shock to customs officials.
Authorities arrested a 38-year old Thai man who was planning on selling the tortoises on the black market as exotic pets.
A woman from Madagascar who carried the tortoises in her luggage was also arrested.
The massive haul represents over 13% of the world's ploughshare tortoise population.
The rare land tortoise is native only to the dry forests of northwestern Madagascar and around 400 are left in the wild.
Its main predator is the bush-pig but in captivity, males are separated due to aggression towards each other.
Thailand and other Asian countries have increasingly become a haven for exotic pets and wildlife traders.
The good news is that increased law enforcement has led to the seizure of more than 4300 tortoises and freshwater turtles in the last three years.
Penalties for wildlife smuggling in Thailand include a four-year prison sentence and fines over $1,000 (U.S.).
The gold colour of the tortoise is of particular interest to collectors and on the black market they can fetch up to $60,000 (U.S.)